What Conference Organizers Need to Know About Weblogs

Over dinner last weekend, I had a discussion with some folks who run conferences for a software company here in Seattle. These folks were concerned about the weblogging of conferences. Their concern wasn’t rooted in the fact that it was happening, but how to understand it and act upon what was being said.

One of their leading concerns was how to keep track of how the weblog world was reacting to the conference. They seemed genuinely interested in how they could make conferences better by understanding the weblog community.

After that dinner, I put some thought into their predicament and below you’ll find what I would recommend for conference organizers:

1. Identify the bloggers, especially the influential ones. Of the thousands that may attend a conference, there are a handful of folks that have the influence to impact the overall perceptions of the event in the weblog world. Look at recent conferences like yours and who blogged what. Look for a community of bloggers that will feed off one another’s posts. You might even ask attendees if they will be blogging the event ahead of time.

2. Get an RSS reader and start subscribing. Don’t waste your time jumping from site to site looking for insights. Once you’ve found a group of bloggers, subscribe via RSS feeds so you can be notified when they post something new. You’ll find that RSS lets you browse a wide variety of blogs quickly. More on RSS here.

3. Use Feedster. Feedster allows you to search RSS feeds based on a search word or phrase. For instance, a Feedster search for “SXSW�? returns weblogs that have most recently posted with the word “SXSW�? in the post. The same would work for your conference.

4. Use Technorati. Technorati shows you the influence or popularity of a blog or blog post in terms of how many (and which) other weblogs are linking to it. This gives you an idea of the reach of a particular post.

For instance, Joi Ito (an A-list blogger) posted that “SXSW is blogger unfriendly�?. Technorati can tell you that 7 other weblogs have linked to that single post from Joi. Technorati shows you conversations across blogs.

5. Get involved. Conference blogging is not going away- so you need to consider how you are going to work with the bloggers. First, don’t plan to overtly influence what you think they should blog. This could easily backfire and word of your actions will travel fast. The best thing you could do is create a weblog that is authored by the conference organizers- or at least those that represent the organizers. Use this weblog to post official news and information about the event as it is happening, using a personal tone.
More points:

  • Provide an RSS feed and make sure everyone knows about it.
  • Use the tools above to find out what is being said and react to it using the conference blog.
  • Show that you are listening and do what you can to address or explain any problems being exposed.
  • Become a news source- you have information no one else does- let the webloggers help you spread the news
  • Point to things that may interest the bloggers
  • Be personal, reliable and do what you can to engender trust in the bloggers.
  • Do not personally attack, intentionally mislead or attempt to disrupt- these actions will make for great blog headlines that will negatively affect your reputation.

SXSW is actually an interesting case. When folks like Joi and Cory Doctrow posted that SXSW was unfriendly, word traveled fast. Cory posted a call-to-arms encouraging an overthrow of the rules. Soon after, the conference rules changed.

I think we'll see perceptions of conferences ripple through the online world via weblogs more an more often. Conference organizers should understand that it doesn't have to be a threat. In fact, it could be the most powerful form of PR a conference has in the future and the key is understanding and working with the bloggers.